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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2822

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(8.54) —I would be only too delighted to try to answer Senator Walters's question if I thought I ever could do so to her satisfaction. I can assure her that I would not only be doing so but also would be doing a cartwheel and singing hallelujah and a few hail Marys. The reality is that almost anything I say, however complete, full, comprehensive or detailed, simply will not satisfy Senator Walters. I repeat: I am not making any allegations or judgment in regard to this Queensland case as to whether the woman has a claim that deserves determination in her favour, as is possible under the procedures of the Sex Discrimination Act. All I am saying in answer to the earlier stages of it is that so far from there having been adverse determinations or findings against the doctor in question, it simply has not reached that stage. It has been a conciliation process. The matter has not got to the stage of anyone seeking-or certainly not granting-a determination in the woman's favour. If it ever got to that stage and the Commission did not at that stage decide that it was too trivial to be bothered with-

Senator Walters —Why a second inquiry by a new commissioner?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I do not know. I am not seeking to comment, and I do not think Senator Walters should either until she knows the circumstances of the particular case. There is a ground in our law spelling out a requirement that people not be discriminated against on the ground of marital status. There will be circumstances where a person's marital status is a highly relevant piece of information which they should provide and there can be no possible argument about it. There may well, on the other hand, particularly if a question is asked, as I gather has been alleged in this case, in a public surgery and within hearing of other people, some sensitivities involved in the context. I do not know the facts. I am not making any pronouncement upon them. There may well be circumstances such as to justify a low key, ombudsman-type inquiry of the kind that apparently has already occurred. I cannot answer any better than that except to say that to date there have been none of the draconian consequences that have been alleged in this matter.

As to how I would `get out of' a Commission inquiry, to use Senator Walters's expression, if I wanted to stick to my guns and not appoint a Liberal Party or National Party member to a senior position on my staff, I would `get out of' it on the basis that I would not expect anyone rejected under those circumstances to be silly enough to make a complaint, anyway, to the Human Rights Commission. In the real world, as a practical matter, silly complaints by and large do not get lodged and do not waste people's time. It is true that there are people who are obsessed enough on occasion to lodge a silly, unmeritorious complaint which occupies a degree of time and attention in resolving it. If someone under those circumstances were to lodge a complaint I would be perfectly happy about writing an appropriate letter in response to an inquiry from the Commission as to what the circumstances of the matter were. I would be perfectly happy to participate in any subsequent process that might be set in train because I value, as I believe most members of the Australian community do, the values of non-irrational, non-arbitrary discrimination which we are trying to build into this legislation. Nobody wants draconian procedures that will work harshly, unfairly or oppressively in practice. I do not believe-genuinely-that the kind of legislation we are writing and improving tonight will have that result. On that basis I respond as I do to Senator Walters's questions.